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Friday Film Review: Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella

Cinderella (1957, 1965, 1997)
Genre: Musical Fairy Tale
Grades: B

If, like me, you are of a certain age and watched US TV, you probably grew up watching the 1965 version of Rodger’s and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella.” Before VHS tapes or DVDs the only way to see it was the annual TV broadcast. Every year I’d eagerly anticipate it, sit entranced during it and then feel let down that I had to wait another year before seeing it again. Not anymore though thanks to modern technology and youtube! Now I can listen to “Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful,” “Ten Minutes Ago,” “In My Own Little Corner,” “Impossible,” the Gavotte, “Stepsisters’ Lament” and “A Lovely Night” any time I want.

In these versions of the story, they stick pretty much to the basic rendition of the classic fairy tale. Sweet and kind Cinderella slaves away for her selfish stepmother and stepsisters – cooking, cleaning, sewing, ironing and whatever else they demand all while escaping in her imagination “in her own little corner in her own little chair.”

Meanwhile the Prince returns after a year of dragon slaying, princess saving and vanquishing magicians but still hasn’t found a woman he loves. In order to goose him into doing his duty, his doting parents decide to host a ball so he can hopefully find a bride. As announced to the country “His Royal Highness Christopher Rupert Windimere Vladimir Earl Alexander Francois Reginald Lancelot Herman…” “Herman?!” “Herman! Gregory James” is giving a ball.

The stepmother and stepsisters, along with all other women between the ages of 16 and 60, head off on the night of the ball leaving poor Cinderella to dream and wish of going herself. Her wishes are answered when her Fairy Godmother arrives, waves a magic wand and transforms a pumpkin into a golden carriage, mice into horses, rats into a coachman and footman and Cinderella’s rags into a beautiful dress and glass slippers. Off she goes to enjoy herself with the warning ringing in her ears to be gone by the stroke of midnight.

While at the ball, she dazzles the Prince and the whole ballroom of people watch as the two dance and fall in love. But heedful of the time, she dashes off as the clock strikes 12 leaving only one glass slipper behind. The distraught prince vows to find her then, along with a long suffering herald he heads off to try the slipper on every maiden in the kingdom.

Finally after countless feet, they arrive at the cottage where the simpering stepsisters fail to shove their feet into the shoe. About to leave, the Prince sees Cinderella, gives the slipper one last fitting and finds his love.

The version I grew up with is the 1965 Lesley Anne Warren one. By the time Whitney Houston and Brandy redid it in 1997, I thought I was past watching fairy tales and so never sought it out. And to my chagrin, I didn’t even realize until recently that Julie Andrews was the first Cinderella in 1957. After a whirlwind tour of the different presentations, I have to say that the all have their pluses and minuses.

For the most part, the scripts and songs are the same. A few differences I noticed are the 6 minute overture start to the 1965 one plus a song sung by the Prince at the start which is haunting as he yearns to find his true love. In 1957, Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother is someone she’s known for years and it’s Cinderella’s idea to use the pumpkin and mice. While in 1997, the dance numbers are longer, they add some songs from other R&H productions, the Prince’s herald has a much larger role and the cast is multiracial.

The 1957 broadcast was live, shown in black and white, and presented on a real Broadway stage. The picture is a bit grainy but the sound is actually pretty good and what they were able to accomplish in the small amount of space they had is amazing. Most of the vocal talent is good while Julie Andrews is, of course, simply wonderful to listen to. I did laugh as the FG wields her wand like a Texas baton twirler and there are two goofs done by the actor playing the Prince. But overall, this one is worth seeking out if only for Andrews’ voice.

By 1965 color had arrived on TV but the simplistic sets still seem based on a stage play. The costumes have this pseudo-medieval feeling going complete with horned headdresses for the ball. Oi. Lesley Anne Warren seems very young compared to everyone else and her wide-eyed portrayal ends up making her look more goofy to me than I remember. While the vocal talent is fairly even, it’s also fairly mediocre with the surprising exception of Stuart Damon as the Prince. The ball sequences still make me smile though as I watch Cinderella’s lovely – if heavy – dress swirl as she dances with her prince.

For the 1997 edition things really got jazzed up. The fantastic sets are something out of Disney meets Mackenzie Childs and are drenched in color. After watching the ‘making of’ featurette, I see that the cast fell in love with them as quickly as I did. The vocal talents of Houston and Bernadette Peters as the stepmother are outstanding which makes me wish that the rest of the cast were nearly as good. I love the message that Cinderella is worthy besides just having a beautiful face, dress and access to a FG. But the aspect of this version that really makes it for me is the multiracial cast selection. After all, if you’re willing to believe in pumpkins becoming carriages and mice getting turned into horses, what’s the stretch to a Caucasian King and an African American Queen having a Filipino son?

While none of the three variations are flawless for me, I did enjoy watching them all. The 1957 and 1997 ones are readily available on DVD and youtube. The challenge is finding the 1965 edition as the DVD is OOP. There are fairly cheap used VHS tapes to be had though the prices for the used DVDs are steep. The sheer number of times this musical has been redone is testament to its popularity and I found myself singing along with old favorite songs. I’ve also had fun mentally regrouping the various actors and elements from all three to create my perfect version. Give them all a try and see which one works best for you.

~Jayne

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

31 Comments

  1. Sandy James
    Sep 24, 2010 @ 05:57:38

    I grew up listening to the record (yes, I said record) of the Leslie Anne Warren version. Oh, how I wanted to be her!! The other incarnations are good — especially the Julie Andrews re-release, but none will ever knock the ’65 version off its pedestal.

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  2. Angela
    Sep 24, 2010 @ 05:59:23

    I can never get enough of fairy tale re-tellings. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the 1965 one, I’ll have to see if I can find it. :)

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  3. Lynne Connolly
    Sep 24, 2010 @ 06:27:05

    I feel deeply deprived. Never has the cultural divide been wider. I’ve never seen this one. We (in the UK) got “The Sound of Music” (which I hate) and the Richard Chamberlain Cinderella at Christmas, and I want this one!

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  4. Shiloh Walker
    Sep 24, 2010 @ 06:28:53

    I’m not generally into musicals but I did see the first and third versions…liked the first, adored the third.

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  5. rosecolette
    Sep 24, 2010 @ 06:38:40

    The Slipper and the Rose version with Richard Chamberlain is a favorite we dust off each Christmas. Love the songs.

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  6. Jayne
    Sep 24, 2010 @ 06:56:47

    @Sandy James: Like you, I’m always going to have a soft spot for the ’65 just cause I grew up with it. Ginger Rogers, Celeste Holm and Pat Carroll – who went on to play the voice of the villainess in “Little Mermaid!”

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  7. Jayne
    Sep 24, 2010 @ 06:58:29

    @Angela: I found an inexpensive copy on ioffer.com. Yeah, I know it’s not legal but since the official DVD is OOP, you really have to pay through the nose to buy a used one on ebay or half.com anyway.

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  8. Jayne
    Sep 24, 2010 @ 07:00:05

    @Lynne Connolly: If you’ve got access to youtube, I think the ’57 and ’97 versions are still up there. There are outtakes of the ’65 songs but I don’t think the whole thing is up there.

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  9. Jayne
    Sep 24, 2010 @ 07:01:26

    @Shiloh Walker: Isn’t the ’97 one darling! The sets and costumes are divine and everyone looks like they’re having a blast on it.

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  10. Jayne
    Sep 24, 2010 @ 07:02:53

    @rosecolette: I plan on reviewing lots of the different Cinderellas out there in the next few months and “The Slipper and the Rose” will be coming up soon.

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  11. Angela
    Sep 24, 2010 @ 08:06:48

    Thanks Jayne! I’ll check that out.

    Now this discussion is making me want to watch the ’97 version too – I actually taped it when it was first one tv. I may still have that tape. Though I have nothing to play it on LOL. Maybe time to buy the DVD.

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  12. Marianne McA
    Sep 24, 2010 @ 09:06:10

    They might not have shown it on TV in the UK, but my children had the video, so we aren’t totally deprived.
    The version they watched most often, however, was the panto with Alexander Armstrong and Sam Janus, with Paul Merton and Ronnie Corbett as the ugly sisters:

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  13. trish
    Sep 24, 2010 @ 09:52:02

    I also grew up with the 1965 version and recall loving it (though I haven’t seen it lately). The 1997 version was okay, but tried soooo hard to be politically correct/ethnically diverse that I didn’t enjoy it as much.

    In our house, my parents always bought the soundtracks to the big musicals of the 60′s so I was exposed to them all – THE SOUND OF MUSIC, MY FAIR LADY, CAMELOT and I also recall a b&w tv broadcast of PETER PAN with Mary Martin. I LOVE CAMELOT (too bad that one never got the film treatment with Burton and Andrews) and I also enjoyed listening to the soundtrack to MY FAIR LADY, but I cannot abide the film version because Julie Andrews was not in it. No offense to Audrey Hepburn, but she didn’t even do her own singing! I believe Marni Nixon did the singing in that one and she also did the singing for Natalie Wood in WEST SIDE STORY.

    I have good memories of playing those records and acting out those musicals with my sisters in the living room!

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  14. Jayne
    Sep 24, 2010 @ 10:07:02

    @trish: “and I also recall a b&w tv broadcast of PETER PAN with Mary Martin.”

    From the extras on the DVD of the ’57 one, they said it was done in response to the live broadcast of “Peter Pan.” There were appearances by R&H on the Ed Sullivan Show, paper dolls, the soundtrack record out the following Monday and oodles of publicity to get people to watch “Cinderella.” It worked because the ratings showed that millions of people watched it live.

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  15. Shiloh Walker
    Sep 24, 2010 @ 11:13:49

    @Jayne: Yeah, it is… I think my 4 yr old would love it.

    All the actors/actresses look like they are having so much fun with it.

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  16. MaryK
    Sep 24, 2010 @ 13:07:17

    I really like the 1957 one with Julie Andrews. I bought it on DVD and was initially disappointed to discover that it was filmed in black and white since the cover has a color picture. But after about five minutes I didn’t even notice any more. It’s basically a filmed play, and I tend to like those a lot.

    I haven’t seen the other two versions. I deliberately skipped the 1997 version because there seemed to be a lot of non-actors starring in it. I might have to give it a try though.

    The Slipper and the Rose is a fun movie. I remember it being kinda corny, but deliberately so I think. I bought a copy because it’s one of those that sticks with you.

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  17. Miss_Thing
    Sep 24, 2010 @ 13:19:31

    You should check out one of my favorites, “The Glass Slipper,” with Leslie Caron as “Ella,” Michael Wilding (ex Mr. Elizabeth Taylor)as the prince and Estelle Winwood as the fairy godmother. It’s so charming! Leslie Caron is just luminous and the ballet sequences are lovely.

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  18. Jusy
    Sep 24, 2010 @ 13:21:58

    Ooooo. Thanks for the memories. I grew up with the 1965 version. I think it was after or a bit before the latest version that I went hunting for a copy of the 1965 version. Now I need to go through my DVD’s and see if I actually do have a copy of it. I’ve never seen the Julie Andrews one. The Brandy one was cute.

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  19. Susanna Ives
    Sep 24, 2010 @ 13:59:06

    Oh wow. I can’t believe I haven’t seen these!! I love Rodgers and Hammerstein. The music from the “King and I” is some of my all-time favorite. And “If I loved you”…sigh.

    I need a good musical at the moment. Thanks!

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  20. Estara
    Sep 24, 2010 @ 15:17:23

    @Lynne Connolly: I’m sort of seconding this, we got the Chamberlain Cinderella in Germany, too. However, I think that is a particularly strong entry in musical Cinderella land – probably because they used so many truly great actors for all kinds of roles.

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  21. Estara
    Sep 24, 2010 @ 15:20:36

    @Miss_Thing: Seconded. I thought the Fairy Godmother was especially amazing in this one.

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  22. John
    Sep 24, 2010 @ 15:28:32

    I’ve only seen the latest adaptation with
    Brandy, but I really do love it with all of my little, gay, musical-loving heart. All of the actors were splendid performers, and I thought they performed with a lot of zest and happiness that other musical actors lose.

    Plus – I naturally have to love ANYTHING with a Prince that is quite hot looking, AND BERNADETTE PETERS. She’s my favorite, ever. Like in Anastasia. That movie was already a favorite of mine, but her voice acting and singing in it just made it even more awesome! She is a musical goddess.

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  23. SonomaLass
    Sep 24, 2010 @ 16:23:22

    I grew up with the 1965 version, and so did my children. My dad used to watch it with me every year, and he would tell me how famous all the older actors were (Ginger Rogers! Walter Pidgeon! Celeste Holm!). There was just nothing else like it. But I didn’t know the DVD was so valuable; better find mine….

    Julie Andrews is one of my favorite performers ever, and the 1957 version is about the earliest work of hers you can find. Such an amazing young talent back then.

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  24. Jayne
    Sep 24, 2010 @ 18:39:01

    @SonomaLass: When I was growing up, I didn’t realize who the other famous actors in the 1965 version were. Now I do and can appreciate them all the more.

    I think the Julie Andrews one was her major introduction to most of the country just as Warren’s was in 1965.

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  25. Jayne
    Sep 24, 2010 @ 18:40:00

    @SonomaLass: Oops, and yes I’ve seen the DVD listed for anything from $30-40.

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  26. Jayne
    Sep 24, 2010 @ 18:44:57

    @John: I thought Peters was fantastic. I’ve always loved her voice and here she gets to camp it up as the evil stepmother.

    The actor who surprised me most is Jason Alexander. But I wish Whoopi Goldberg hadn’t squeeked as much. It made me think of mice caught in a trap.

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  27. Jayne
    Sep 24, 2010 @ 18:48:16

    @Miss_Thing: The problem with “The Glass Slipper” is it’s also OOP, HTF and expensive. Youtube has some of the dance sequences posted but – the last time I checked – the whole movie isn’t up.

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  28. John
    Sep 24, 2010 @ 19:44:40

    @Jayne: True. Whoopi Goldberg is quite the squeaker in that movie. She’s not bad, but she could have been a little better.

    If you love Peters like I do, then you MUST watch Into the Woods. They recorded the original stage run, and Peters is the evil witch. It’s one of her most iconic roles, and it really is phenomenal to watch, especially when you realize that it’s all on a stage and just being filmed. I can’t recommend it enough.

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  29. Susanna Ives
    Sep 24, 2010 @ 19:52:42

    @john. Peters is AWESOME as the witch in Into the Woods. “Stay with me the world is dark and wild. Stay a child while you can be a child.” I love Sondheim more than I do Rodgers and Hammerstein.

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  30. Lynette
    Sep 26, 2010 @ 12:03:45

    Wow just saw this and had to comment as the ’97 version has become my new addiction. I saw it (the ’97 version) when it first came out and thought it was okay, but a couple weeks ago I was sick and this was on TV and I became obsessed. LOL! I’ve been watching it constantly ever since.

    I recently watched the 1965 version (got a copy of the DVD from the library) but I thought it was a little campy. I probably wouldn’t have thought that way if I had watched it when I was a kid, but now, after watching the ’97 version it appeared too dated and not natural compared to the ’97 version. I was able to buy more into the relationship in the ’97 version.

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  31. CupK8
    Sep 27, 2010 @ 08:42:38

    I was raised on Leslie Ann Warren, and nothing will ever compare. Despite Bernadette, the 1997 version infuriated me when I saw it. It was a much bigger reason than just this one production, though. They changed R&H’s Cinderella from a traditional musical to a pop musical. The lyric soprano in me was screaming, “Write your own darn version!” At that time, I was seeing the shift from more traditional sounds to pop sounds in new musicals, and was coming to terms with being the “old sound”. Change is good, but when that change means your voice type isn’t wanted any longer, it can make you pretty angry.

    The multi-cultural casting is a big deal, and that made me happy. But they completely changed the style of the musical, which didn’t.

    Were the first two filmed/sponsored by Disney?

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